From San Francisco To San Simeon

Photos © 2003, Rick Sammon, All Rights Reserved

I am sure you have heard the expression, "stop and smell the roses." Basically, it means that we should take time out of our busy lives and appreciate the beauty of the world and life around us. As a professional travel photographer, I actually seldom did that, because I was so busy (my wife/assistant, Susan, calls it being intense) striving for the best possible pictures. Among my professional photographer friends, my intensity has made me known as the "shoot and scoot" photographer.

Well, that's changing, due to several factors. One being the tragedy of September 11th, another being the desire to spend more time with my loved ones, and another is that I have "been there, done that...and got the T-shirt."

And Now...
In my quest to slow down, while at the same time still striving to take photographs that I like, last year I decided to do, as the gang from Monty Python's Flying Circus used to say, "something completely different." I decided to take a drive, with Susan, along the Pacific Coast Highway, from San Francisco to San Simeon. Our mission was to have fun, enjoy the magnificent scenery, and snap a few shots along the way. No pressure.

During the peaceful 250-mile trip south (which lasted a wonderful 10 hours), we stopped numerous times to take pictures, pulling our rented car off the road and walking toward the beautiful Pacific Ocean. The ocean spray, clean air, and sunshine were invigorating. The rock formations, especially in Big Sur National Park, were breathtaking. The picture taking was fun and rewarding. The seafood in the seaside restaurants was yummy. And the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, which we visited the next day, was magnificent! The trip was so relaxing and peaceful that it is high on my recommendations of "must sees" for photographers.

From San Francisco, you can make the same trip we did in two days--down one day (stay overnight near San Simeon), back the next. Or, if you really want to "stop and smell the roses," spend even more time. And of course, you can drive north from Los Angeles and have a similar experience.

Before you head out on a shoot in any city stop by the local postcard stand. You'll get a sense of local photo opportunities, as well as how they are lighted at different times of day. You'll also see what's been photographed a "million" times.

To give you a snapshot of our trip, I thought I'd share a few "postcards from California" with you. Here you go:

From San Francisco, drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and follow the signs to the scenic overlook. Drive up the hill, park your car and find a strategic viewpoint looking back toward the city. If you are lucky, you'll get a sunny day, postcard shot. If not, you'll get a picture of the bridge shrouded by dense fog. Bring the widest angle lens you have to capture as much of the bridge as possible. This picture was taken with a 16-35mm lens set to 16mm.

Landscape photography lovers can shoot to their heart's content along the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as PCH and Highway 1. Wear hiking boots for sure footing on slippery rocks as you climb into photo opportunity positions. If you want, you can climb right down to the water. This photograph was taken about 300 ft from the road. Wide angle lenses will help you capture the sweeping scenery. A polarizing filter will reduce reflections on water and even on atmospheric haze, therefore making your pictures look sharper. For more about the Pacific Coast Highway, see

California is rich in Spanish history--and missions. The San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Mission, in Carmel, lets us look back in time and photograph in a peaceful surrounding.

See for more information.

You'll find countless sunset opportunities during late afternoon drives along the Pacific Coast Highway. This scene was photographed in Big Sur National Park, about 30 minutes north of San Simeon. To bring out the colors in your sunset shots, underexpose by a stop or two.

Morning, afternoon, evening, and garden tours are offered at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. This photograph of the outdoor pool (there's one indoors, too), was taken during the morning tour. If you are serious about photographing the castle, sign up for both the morning and afternoon tours. That way, as the sun moves across the sky, you'll get good light on different sides of the castle. See for more information.

The Hearst Castle, also known as Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument, offers a glimpse of how the "other half lives." If you visit the castle, which is 250 miles south of San Francisco, bring your wide angle lens and polarizing filter.

Rick Sammon is the author of "Rick Sammon's Complete Guide to Digital Photography." See for details.

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alco's picture

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